The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently awarded a $2.6 million grant to researchers at East Tennessee State University and Virginia Tech to develop studies on how best to provide support services for individuals being treated for opioid use disorder.
The Studies To Advance Recovery Support (STARS) Network, which will involve researchers across multiple universities and health care systems, will center on the urgent need for research to advance recovery support services in Central Appalachia.
The goal of the partnership is to build research networks and capacity around addiction recovery support services in general and specifically around those people who are using medications to treat their opioid use disorder in combination with counseling and other support services.
The principal investigators for this project are Robert Pack, an associate dean and a professor in the ETSU College of Public Health and executive director of ETSU's Addiction Science Center, and Kimberly Horn, a professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and in the department of population health sciences in Virginia Tech's Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Both are nationally recognized experts on the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders with a number of funded research studies and published manuscripts on this topic.
"STARS will use creative methods to engage treatment providers and peer recovery support specialists to generate a better understanding of the continuum of treatment services in Central Appalachia," said Pack. "The ultimate goal is to better understand what works in a variety of settings, so that long-term recovery support services are readily accessible for persons suffering from substance use disorder.
"Recovery can be greatly facilitated through peer support services - engaging with non-clinical people who have had similar lived experiences with addiction and who are in long-term recovery," Pack added. "Exactly how those services work is one of the main areas of focus for the new grant."
The STARS Network will capitalize on the existing Opioids Research Consortium of Central Appalachia (ORCCA), established in 2019 and jointly run by Horn and Pack, to generate training programs, tools and platforms to study of peer recovery support services for individuals treated with medications for opioid use disorder.
In addition to ETSU and Virginia Tech, other ORCCA partners include Ballad Health, Carilion Clinic, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Marshall University and West Virginia University.
"It is important for people in treatment to interact with others like themselves, who've successfully navigated the same journey in their community, and who can give them support as they rebuild their lives," said Horn. "We need to figure out how to create a recovery ecosystem that bridges the gaps. We intend for this project to gear us up to study the effects and key features of peer support models. Without these types of studies, the value of peer support models may not be fully realized in our communities."
The work will be facilitated by long-standing university-community collaborations in both regions: the Addiction Science Center Working Group in Northeast Tennessee, chaired by Pack, and the Roanoke Valley Collective Response, in the Roanoke VA region, co-chaired by Horn.